I was watching a television programme last night on the history channel Yesterday, called Professor Hutton’s Curiosities. Very oddball, typically British in its eccentricity, the programme follows bespectacled, tweedy Professor Ronald Hutton, a history academic, as he visits niche and out-of-the-ordinary British museums. Within each unusual collection, he discovers and discusses curiosities from all eras and all corners of the globe.
The episode I watched saw the Professor visit the Royal Society in London. The Society was established by the Royal Charter of King Charles II in 1663, and has been at the heart of modern science for over 350 years. It possesses a remarkable collection of items related to the history of science.
One item Professor Hutton presented in particular was quite astonishing – a piece of the very apple tree that Isaac Newton was sitting beneath which dropped an apple on his head (allegedly) and inspired the theory of gravity. As part of the Royal Society’s 350th anniversary celebrations, this piece of the tree was taken into space on the NASA Space Shuttle Atlantis, and filmed as it floated in zero-gravity.
A representation of one of the most significant scientific discoveries in history, flown in space, proving the first law of motion in a way that Newton would perhaps never have dreamed possible. What an incredible item.
It made me aware that for all the unique and important items that become available to the public at auction, there exists a cornucopia of significant collectibles and ‘curiosities’ that may well remain within the hands of eminent institutions for centuries to come.
I don’t know how to feel about this. What do you think? Is it a terrible tragedy that some of the most interesting items will never be available to collectors? Or are some things just too wonderful to be hidden away in private collections?
Take a look at the Unique Collectibles we have for sale.